In the past, interviews I’ve conducted with Jason Reitman have gone to spectacularly weird places. In 2014 I had to tell an editor, “Half of this interview is about Garbage Pail Kids.” (To the point now Reitman’s publicist will ask before I interview not just Reitman, but any of her clients, “Is this one going to be about Garbage Pail Kids?) This time it doesn’t go as far out there, but of course we spend some time talking about Garbage Pail Kids, slime and Cyndi Lauper’s She’s so Unusual album.
That first interview I’m sure my then-editor hated was in support of Reitman’s Labor Day. The one after that was for Men, Women & Children, two films that were surprising critical and financial misfires after Reitman’s impressive run of Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult. In person, Reitman is a “wear his heart on his sleeve” type person and the last time I had seen him, in 2014 at the Toronto Film Festival after reviews for Men, Women & Children had just come out, he looked, frankly, a bit defeated.
Now, four years later, Reitman is returning to film and reteaming with Diablo Cody (the two collaborated on Juno and Young Adult together) with Tully. (In recent years, Reitman has worked on his television project, Casual; he also has a politics-related film coming this fall titled, The Front Runner.)
Tully stars Charlize Theron as Marlo, a woman who is struggling with motherhood and finds solace in a younger caregiver named Tully (Mackenzie Davis) who is there to help out with the kids. (There’s a lot more going on with this movie than you might think, something Reitman both discusses ahead, at the end of this interview with plenty of warnings, and hopes you won’t read until after you see the film.) But first, yes, we discuss Garbage Pail Kids and slime.
I heard your publicist say something to you on the way over and I think I know what it’s about.
She said that we’re just going to talk about Garbage Pail Kids.
When I turned that interview in, I had a lot of explaining to do. “So, it’s mostly about Garbage Pail Kids.”
You know what? The crazy thing is my daughter now has some Garbage Pail Kids. They started to reissue them.
Well, they’re doing new ones that are based on like musicians and stuff. She hasn’t gone deep, she hasn’t gone through my old Garbage Pail Kids or watched the movie or anything, but she has definitely started to have an awareness of what they are. Not in the same cultish way that we did when we were kids collecting them. Because her generation is obsessed with two things it seems: squishies and slime. But, so, anyhow.
But we had slime. There was slime in our time.
I mean, you can thank my father (Ivan Reitman of Ghostbusters fame) for that.
Oh yeah, that’s true. And then He-Man jumped on the slime boat after Ghostbusters.
Yeah, but, I mean, come on. The original slime is Ecto slime.
But other brands started making it. There were slime opportunists.
But new slime, they make it at home, so my daughter can make five different types of slime. Kids have gone heavy into consistency and what you put into it. And is it a textured slime? Is it a fluffy slime? Is it a cloud slime? Should you put shaving cream in it? I mean, it’s very detailed. Martha Stewart could have a whole website dedicated to it.
My friend who has children was telling me about this. That there’s YouTube clips of people making slime.
Oh, yeah. I mean, there are kids who sell slime at her school. I’ve watched other kids comment on my daughter’s slime with real affection. My daughter can make some slime! That’s all I’m saying.
It would be embarrassing if she made bad slime, considering where she comes from.
[Laughs] Yeah. Well, that’s why I spent many nights with her, you know, down in the workshop, making sure that we had the best slime at school.
So this is a true story. On the way to see Tully I was listening to Cyndi Lauper’s “Money Changes Everything,” which is a deeper cut. And then that song is somehow in this movie.
Oh, I am so happy that you responded to that. So we had to tell the story of how does Marlo get from Rye, New York, to Manhattan. It’s about an hour journey. And we were like how do we tell this story quickly? How do we express the amount of time it took and how far she lives outside the city. And it just hit me back in the day you’d put on a CD and the trip would be the duration of the CD. And I was like, I wonder if we could tell the trip through 10 tracks of a Cyndi Lauper album? And we reached out to Cyndi Lauper to explain the idea. And so she watched the movie and I went to this four-hour lunch – one of the most amazing lunches I’ve ever had – where Cyndi and I just talked about music and movies – she loves movies – and kids and parenting and the whole thing. And she gave us permission. And it’s just tremendous.
I know the track order of She’s So Unusual pretty well, so when we get to “She Bop” and “All Through the Night” I caught on.
Oh my god, you are in the small percentage of people who get it, and I am so appreciative of this conversation right now.
This is one of those movies that would be much better to talk about after it comes out, as not to ruin any surprises.
Yeah, 100 percent. I mean, that’s kind of what’s been interesting. And it’s been interesting since the beginning. The first time Diablo called me to tell me the idea – and by the way, that’s like one of the great little personal moments I get to experience, which is I get a call from Diablo – she says, “I have an idea.” And I know she’s about to tell me something that I’m going to make and one day other people are going to see. But right at that moment, it’s just an idea in her head that she hasn’t vocalized, and I’m about to hear it. And she described Tully in two sentences. And six weeks later she had a script and we were off to the races. But what she described in those two sentences is something that cannot be discussed until you finish watching the movie.
And I was like, that’s it…So the conversation in advance of seeing the movie is we’ve made a movie about motherhood in an accurate way that exposes all its flaws and is funny. But the conversation after is… [Reitman requested we save this part for the end of the interview with a warning before that part. So after you see the film, you can read that part, which is all at the bottom.]
My male friends who have children who have seen this movie, their reaction is basically, “I feel like a dick now.”
You know, men – much like other places in life – as dads, do less, get more credit, and are particularly pleased with themselves for the work they’ve done.
This movie seems like a good prerequisite for a father.
If what you’re suggesting is that all people should see the film, then I totally agree.
I just think a lot of men are going to go, “I didn’t know this.” Am I overstating that?
No. I mean, I like your approach to it. I think everyone’s going to feel differently about that. Obviously, the gender divide on parenting is becoming more complicated with each given year, and hopefully moving in a direction of equality. And I think Diablo created a really interesting mirror on modern parenting relationships.
A big reason that this works for me is because Ron Livingston’s character is not portrayed as an asshole.
Right. Well, it’s impossible to, right? Because Ron Livingston is about as likable a human being as possible.
Was that what you two were thinking? We like him but sometimes he doesn’t get it.
You know, I think there is an element that this is a father who needs to step up more. I mean, he’s there, he loves his kid, he does the homework, he does the stuff, but I think he does need to kind of open his eyes. And, look, it’s about a relationship that’s gotten into that quiet place where everyone’s afraid to say something. No one wants to rock the boat. And so, you kind of get in bed with each other and just get on your iPads and you don’t talk. And I think a theme throughout everything I do is just the importance of communication.
Was there a day a few weeks ago when you were like, so, what does Robert Downey Jr. have to say on Twitter today? And then you see Avengers: Infinity War was now on your original release date?
So that was a moment where we realized we could be closer to Mother’s Day, and I think that was actually a great moment for this movie. And I’ve always thought of Tully as being part of the Star Wars universe, so coming out May the 4th, it always seems like it was meant to be.
I know you’ve been busy with the TV show, Casual.
It’s been two years, you know. I really loved making this show, Casual. It was my first step into television and an exciting exploration for me to be in a TV writers room and working with Zander and Helen. Actually, it’s funny. Today I’m actually going to the set of Casual for our final day. We’re closing the fourth and final season. But that’s been an amazing journey and I think part of my journey into these two films, and entering kind of the next chapter of my filmmaking career. And I’m thrilled with Tully. I’m really excited about The Front Runner, which, I’ll be done by the end of the year. And very excited for the future.
And that your daughter has the best slime.
I mean, that’s the real moment you know you’ve done a good job as a parent, right?
And I hope Tully also gets people get reunited with She’s So Unusual.
Really, we’re here just to boost Cyndi Lauper sales.
[Okay, from this point on we get a little more specific about what happens in Tully, like major spoilers. If you want to throw caution to the wind and read this part without having seen the movie, then that’s between you and your god. Or, you can see the movie, then come back to this section after, which is what we all advise.]
Alright, I will put a warning up before we get to this part.
Look, I mean, you’re always going to have people who are like, I don’t give a fuck, I want to read it anyway. And then they’ll ruin it for themselves. But this gives them the warning that you are actually going to ruin the movie for yourself if you keep reading.
I would disagree a little with that, it’s just a different way to watch it but not knowing is better.
You know, all I’ll say is someone ruined Fight Club for me before I saw it, and I’ve never forgiven them for that.
Do you want people to know there’s more going on in this than they might realize?
I think, look, I love the way that people are going in kind of blind. And I think it’s a very scary thing as a director, right? Because for an hour of the movie, you know what car you’re in. If you’re the audience, you’re like, I’m in the car, I’m watching the movie, everything’s good, groovy, got it. You know, I get the tone. And then it starts to change. And as an audience, you’re going, oh, okay. Maybe the car’s a little different than I thought! Maybe the destination’s a little different than I thought. And then you get to the end and you realize, oh, I’ve been watching a different movie, but I only realize it now. And I don’t know, as a director it’s kind of scary and exciting, but of course it means that it’s a little harder to talk about.
This is like Jason Reitman’s The Sixth Sense.
Right, but the funny thing is like with Sixth Sense and Usual Suspects and Fight Club, those are all thrillers. And when you watch a thriller, you watch it with your detective hat on, right? You’re holding the pipe and you’re looking for, all right, I’m not going to let them get me. And you’re kind of looking for the trick.
You’re right. While watching I wasn’t even considering a “trick.”
No, you’re just kind of in, right? You’re kind of like, oh, yeah, let me watch this interesting, kind of charming, humorous relationship. And then the movie comes and surprises you. And I wish I could say this is my idea, but it was all Diablo’s idea, and it was love at first sight. I just fell in love with the concept.
So what were Diablo’s two sentences?
The two sentences were, “I want to write a screenplay about a mother of three suffering from postpartum depression, and a younger version of herself comes to save her.” And I was like, that’s it. We’ve made a movie about the moment in which your younger self starts to feel like a different human being and you have to say goodbye to that human being. And what if they came to visit you at the moment where you felt the most lost, the most alone, where you were supposed to be living this blessing, except you’re confused and you’re scared. And they let you know it’s going to be okay and you finally say goodbye.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.